Wednesday 21 February 2018

Heartbreak for Limerick

Cork 2-6 Limerick 0-11

Limerick's Padraig Browne makes life tough for Donncha O'Connor at Pairc Ui Chaoimh
Limerick's Padraig Browne makes life tough for Donncha O'Connor at Pairc Ui Chaoimh

The heartache echoed through every syllable of John Galvin's words. Adorning the walls of the boardroom in Pairc Ui Chaoimh where he stood were reminders of perhaps why he was now being fed another diet of consolation. Silver gleamed from every old photo, in every code across every era.

Maybe it was the weight of that tradition that jolted Cork across the line minutes earlier for first back-to-back Munster football titles since 1995, that they couldn't lose a provincial final to Limerick before their own among a 20,676 crowd.

Cork believed that little bit more because of what comes behind them. Limerick? They have to reach back to the century before last for their last Munster football crown, 113 years to be precise.

The hard-luck stories stack up, though none are perhaps harder than this, not even 2004 when they dragged Kerry kicking and screaming to a replay.

It wasn't the grand larceny of Gaelic Grounds scale last year when Cork needed two late goals in a dramatic rescue -- this was more slow burn, more agonising because silverware really was within touching distance again. Galvin has had enough. "To tell you the truth, 113 years doesn't bother me. All I know is I'm playing 11 years and I haven't won one," he mourned.

"This is the third year going into it (a Munster final). In 2004, we should have beaten Kerry. In 2009, I'll always look back and think we should have taken Cork when we had our chances," he reflected.

"I've had enough of it. We've been a nearly team for years. The problem with nearly teams is that if they don't make it, they die a year or two later. Look at Fermanagh, Wexford, all them. You need to win something to keep up the spirit."

As a spectacle, notwithstanding the greasy surface and intermittent rain, it was as good as anything so far in the championship and a tonic for provincial structures. Without doubt, Munster has been the most competitive, most engaging of the four so far.

Cork were terrible, brought to safety only by the sheer opportunism of Daniel Goulding and the driving leadership in the second half of Graham Canty. For 35 minutes either side of half-time, they were scoreless.


The gloss from their obliteration of Kerry three weeks earlier will have dulled a little and it may be no harm to pin-prick such burgeoning expectation around them. But they are far from the finished article and yesterday they came back to the pack.

Cork manager Conor Counihan admitted they were "lucky" but was willing to draw what he could from a testing afternoon. He had expected as much but maybe not in the manner that it transpired.

They needed a Goulding goal on 52 minutes for a lifeline (2-3 to 0-9) at a time when Limerick looked to have taken their best shots. Canty's driving surge from defence and subsequent inviting delivery for substitute Colm O'Neill to bat down sat up perfectly for Goulding.

But even after that Limerick remained steadfast with Stephen Lavin matching a Goulding point and Stephen Kelly on target as the clock ticked down after O'Neill and Donncha O'Connor (the only score from a free in the game) had put Cork two clear.

In a frantic finish, Cork defended smartly and the gaps that opened up so invitingly for Ian Ryan, Seanie Buckley and Kelly in the opening half were sealed off.

"We'll have a lot of fellas there who will be disappointed with their performance," acknowledged Counihan.

"That's probably a positive thing because a lot of these lads have character. I know they'll fight back and deliver again.

"We'll learn a lot out of that today. Learning is one thing, putting into practice is another however," he warned.

Counihan had to contend without three frontline defenders -- the suspended Noel O'Leary being joined by the injured John Miskella and the late withdrawal of Anthony Lynch (groin).

It left them exposed in areas with Ray Carey, Ger Spillane and Brian O'Regan all struggling with Limerick forwards who showed composure and patience to build up an impressive 0-4 to 0-1 lead.

Signs of Limerick's desire were evident in all major early skirmishes, Kelly shunting the towering Nicholas Murphy back, Stephen Lucey overpowering Pearse O'Neill on the stand side and Canty being hounded into mistakes almost unprecedented by his standards. In every part of the field, Cork were under pressure.

For Limerick's second point by Buckley, eight minutes in, Canty was robbed by Cormac Joyce-Power and that level of malaise would continue in Cork's game throughout the half.

The champions found dry land however from the early storm when Goulding was adjudged to have been pulled down by full-back Shane Gallagher on 14 minutes and O'Connor converted the penalty (0-4 to 1-1). But it looked a harsh call by Clare official Rory Hickey as the Cork player had lost control by the time any contact was made.

For Mickey Ned O'Sullivan, that decision was the "one regret" he would carry from the day.

Still, Limerick were largely unnerved and superb defensive work by Johnny McCarthy, Mark O'Riordan and Lavin kept them compact and allowed them to build again.

Ryan came into his own, kicking four points, but it was the strength on the ball of Kelly that provided an even greater threat to Cork and he made an opening for Ryan on 28 minutes that was just narrowly wide. Cork had been too casual and Michael Shields' loose kick, which was easily intercepted by Ryan on 18 minutes for his third point, reflected how much. So Counihan was glad to get them in at the break as they considered a three-point deficit, 0-8 to 1-2. For 15 minutes of the second half, they pressed with little return but their manager sensed their break would always come.

"We needed to take responsibility, we need to take ownership, but not to panic. To be fair to fellas, they keep their heads." Goulding did the rest.

For Limerick, there is the consolation of a place in the last 12 and a level of respect in football now that hasn't previously been there despite their progress. It was a point O'Sullivan touched upon afterwards.

"The big thing is very few people had seen Limerick play this year and they were stereotyping. There was no logic to some of the comments about Limerick football. But people live in ivory towers and don't go to the trouble of attending a training session and watching these guys. There's nothing wrong with football in Limerick."

Except getting across that line.

Scorers -- Cork: D Goulding 1-3, D O'Connor 1-1 (1-0 pen, 1f), J Masters, C O'Neill 0-1 each. Limerick: I Ryan 0-4, S Buckley 0-3, G Collins, S Kelly, S Lavin, P Ranahan, all 0-1 each.

Cork -- A Quirke 7; R Carey 5, M Shields 7, B O'Regan 4; G Spillane 5, G Canty 8, K O'Connor 6; A O'Connor 6, N Murphy 6; P Kelly 5, P O'Neill 5, P Kerrigan 4; D Goulding 8, J Masters 5, D O'Connor 6. Subs: P Kissane 7 for O'Regan (26), C O'Neill for Masters (50), A Walsh for Spillane (58), P O'Flynn for Kerrigan (61), F Goold for A O'Connor (62).

Limerick -- S Kiely 7; J McCarthy 8, S Gallagher 7, M O'Riordan 6; S Lavin 8, S Lucey 7, P Ranahan 7; J O'Donovan 7, J Galvin 7; P Browne 5, I Ryan 8, S Buckley 7; G Collins 7, C Joyce-Power 4, S Kelly 8. Subs: K O'Callaghan 4 for Joyce-Power (33), J Stokes for O'Callaghan (55), A Lane for Gallagher (62), E Hogan for Browne (65).

Ref -- Rory Hickey (Clare).

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